What Role, If Any, Does Spending Data Have to Play in Local Council Budget Consultations?

It seems to be that time of year when my local council is consulting about next year’s budgets, running a series of roadshows (which I missed) backed up by an online consultation (but no briefing or discussion documents?)

The online consultation opens with asking for opinions about the extent to which the council should support various services:

Adult Social Care, Asset & Estates Management, Bereavement Services, Central Support Services (Legal, Finance, ICT, Human Resources, Shared Services, Corporate & Democratic Core), Childrens Social Care, Coastal Management, Community Safety, Concessionary Fares, Coroner, Cowes Chain Ferry, Culture & Heritage, Economic Development, Education Psychology/Special Education Needs, Education Welfare Service, Elections & Land Charges, Environmental Health, Licensing, Trading Standards, Fire & Rescue, Harbours, Highways, Housing, Leisure & Recreation, Libraries, Parking Services, PFI Contract, Planning & Building Control, Public Conveniences, Public Health, Registrars, Revenues & Benefits, Schools Infrastructure/buildings, School Music Service, School Transport, Sports & Play Development, Subsidised Buses, Tourism, Waste Management, Workforce Development, Youth Service

The council also publishes a Budget Book which identifies intended savings in three directorate areas (Economy & Environment, Community Wellbeing & Social Care, Schools & Learning).

Budgets are allocated in different service areas according to the Service Reporting Code of Practice for Local Authorities (SeRCOP):

IW revenue budget summary 2013-14

The Revenue Budget Service Analysis breaks things down further within each service area:

Adult social care

IW council adult social care 2013-14

Central Services and Capital Costs

IW council central services and corporate costs 2013-14

Childrens Social Care

IW council childrens social coare 2013-14


Iw council education 2013-14

Cultural and related services

iw cultural and related services

Environmental Services

IW environmental services

Planning and development services

IW planning and development services

Fire and Rescue Services

IW fire and rescue services

Highways and Transport Services

IW highways and transport services

Housing Services

Iw housing services 2013-14

Local spending data

Naive as I am, I started wondering about the extent to which we might be able to map spending items released through the council’s Spending and Finance (Transparency) data releases.

So for example, if we know a service area has a particular annual budget, and we also get to see certain declarations of spend within that are (maybe reconciled to contracts and other procurement information), then we might start to be able to pull together a picture about the range of activities associated with the service area based on the trace shadows those activities throw off in the form of spending items.

If a budget cut is proposed to a service area, and it applies proportionally to the spend, or to particular areas of the spend, we might start to get a feeling about what the practical consequences of the cut might actually be.

So that’s the proposition – but how far can we get when we look at the spending data itself?

Reviewing the spending data to date for the 2013-14 financial year, we see spend associated with the following directorates:

  • Childrens Services
  • Community Wellbeing & Social Care
  • Corporate
  • Economy & Environment
  • Resources
  • Chief Executive, Schools & Learning

It’s not necessarily immediately obvious how these map on to the services listed in the budget book (for example, is Childrens Social Care in Childrens Services or Community Wellbeing & Social Care?

The spending data released by the Isle of Wight Council also has two other relevant columns: the Service Area and the Expenses Type. Unfortunately, the Service Area descriptions seem to be rather ad hoc, and whilst the Expense Area terms may follow some standard vocabulary, it’s not obvious which, or how these terms are associated with particular summary spending areas that appear in the budget book.


As a very quick example of the sort of thing we can start to look for, here is an example of spends associated with the keyword music appearing in the spending Service Area:

iw music spend

The School Music Service is one of the areas the council consultation asked about, so if there is to be a cut to the funding of this service that impacts on spend, we might get a feel for what levels of savings are possible on transparently declared spend in that area:

school Music service

So responsibility for the service changed directorate in July?

Here’s the overall cumulative spend:

school music service2

So the transparently declared spend isn’t that much (the majority of spend – not declared in the spending data – is presumably on salaries?), and what there is declared is mainly on travel. As armchair auditors or budget consultees, I guess this provides us with the question: is just over £10k on staff vehicle mileage over the last 6 months a large amount?

We could possibly also get an estimate of the amount of mileage involved (Isle of Wight council mileage rates). As a lower bound on the mileage, if it was all charged at the highest rate (65p per mile) and all the Staff Vehicle mileage was on miles at that rate, it would come to 10490.62 * 100 / 65.0, or just over 16,100 miles; that is, slightly over 2,500 miles per month, or 100 miles per working day.

But again: is this a large number? When you consider that the School Music Service provides “weekly instrumental and vocal tuition” to “some 3,000 pupils a week in 49 primary, secondary and special schools … from a team of 24 qualified and experienced staff” (via about the School Music Service), it doesn’t seem so much?

(I am mindful that doing such exercises can lead to hatchet jobs around small amounts of money on particular public services, and am quite wary of giving examples as a result… What I do hope to show, though, is how this sort of data investigation does do can encourage you to go looking for other sources of data to help make sense of, and further put into context, the data you do have…)


In terms of adult social care, services provided to “older’ people (presumably, 65 and over) appear to be identified in the budget book headings as one coherent group. So what affect might budget cuts in this area have on spending, based on spending items that might be associated with this area?

If we search for mention of the key term elderly, here’s what we get in accumulated spend to date:

                                           Service.Area     sumTot
                   Elderly Mentally Ill Residential Care 3511701.13
                                  Elderly Frail Homecare 2084136.78
                             Elderly Residential Daycare 1725826.30
                            Elderly Frail Nursing Island 1579067.00
                          Elderly Frail Residential Care 1169120.25
                        Elderly Frail Residential Income 1116792.64
                          Elderly Frail Nursing - Island  669237.95
                     Elderly Mentally Ill Nursing Island  558575.44
                          Elderly Frail Managed Accounts  230445.28
                     Elderly Mental Ill Nursing - Island  216668.02
                           Elderly Mentally Ill Homecare  154026.30
                          Elderly Frail Nursing Mainland   33553.91
                                   Elderly Frail Daycare   23377.70
                   Elderly Mentally Ill Nursing Mainland   11761.68
                   Elderly Mental Ill Nursing - Mainland   10243.80
                   Elderly Mentally Ill Managed Accounts    9257.41
                            Elderly Mentally Ill Daycare    4549.10
                        Elderly Frail Nursing - Mainland    4515.84
                                Elderly Frail Other Care    2711.83
                         Elderly Mentally Ill Other Care    2550.16
                          Elderly Frail Personal Budgets    1900.64
                       Elderly Frail Community Equipment     924.39
                   Elderly Mentally Ill Personal Budgets     625.24
                            Elderly Frail Non-Res Income     171.15
   Elderly Frail - Day/Other care - Client Contributions      36.50
                     Elderly Mentally Ill Nursing Income   -1510.32
                            Elderly Frail Nursing Income   -2371.82

And here are the main suppliers:

                               Supplier.Name    sumTot
                       ISLAND HEALTHCARE LTD 891433.32
                      REDACTED PERSONAL DATA 836757.77
                         SCIO HEALTHCARE LTD 685499.04
                           SOMERSET CARE LTD 616713.96
               LONDON RESIDENTIAL HEALTHCARE 517033.27

We can also get a feel for what the expense types are:

                       Expenses.Type      sumTot
  Charges from Independent Providers 13504438.81
                Regular Respite Care   214573.11
           Crisis Support for Carers    17951.37
                    Fixed Telephones      924.39
                Professional Service      356.04
               Operational Equipment       36.50
                     Client Expenses       11.83
                Client Contributions    -1185.83
                    Provider Refunds  -619211.92

With many challenges facing the provision of homecare more generally, how is funding allocated in service areas containing the keyterm homecare?

                                Service.Area     sumTot
                      Elderly Frail Homecare 2084136.78
                Physical Disability Homecare  395358.15
               Elderly Mentally Ill Homecare  154026.30
                Learning Disability Homecare  123971.95
              Learning Disabilities Homecare  120884.88
                      Mental Health Homecare  117730.46
                           Dementia Homecare   28467.84
                         Homecare Reablement   20892.01
                    Homecare 18-25 year olds   12519.84
   Children Young Adults Disability Homecare    2962.08


As I mentioned, I didn’t get to go to any of the budget consultation roadshows. But I do wonder whether we can make use of spending data to help us get a feel for some of the services that budgets deliver via spend with third parties. For example, can we use such information as a view on to how cuts to budgets might play out in terms of spending cuts associated with the withdrawal or reduction of corresponding services?

In order to relate spend to budget items described in the budget book, I think there is still some way to go though. What we need is another column in the spending data that relates to headings described in the budget book. (Even better might be columns relating to SerCOP codes?)

PS Hmm, I wonder… is this the sort of topic that could make for an interesting School of Data style community based data expedition? And waht role might the Isle of Wight Armchair Auditor or OpenSpending play in such a thing?

So What Exactly Do LGSL, LGNL, IPSV and the Rest Relate To?!

During a recent Twitter exchange with @paulgeraghty, I finally got round to trying to make sense of (for myself, at least) the following acronyms:

  • LGSL (Local Government Service List) – a list of codes that escribe the various service functions operated by a local council
  • LGNL (Local Government Navigation List) – a list of “human friendly” terms, keyed using the same numerical idenitifers used by the LGSL, that provide phrases appropriate for use as navigation text in local gov websites. (as I tweeted: “so LGNL are ui/human friendly terms to use against LGSL codes?”)
  • IPSV (Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary) – a great big index of vocabulary terms to describe all manner of government related functions. Paul gave a good example of one way of using this list – a search of IPSV for the term coach turns up coach companies as well as sports coaching. Clicking through on the sports coaching definition link allows us to then pull up a mapping of this term that identifies the corresponding LGSL code, as well IPSV categorised broader terms and related terms.

Looking at the full list of standards on the esd site, I also noticed the Need List, that “[i]dentifies the requirements of a citizen that can be fulfilled within the bounds of public sector service delivery whereby a course of action might support a positive change in circumstances”, and the (Issues and) Benefits List, “a list of issues or potential benefits which might be addressed (issues) or delivered (benefits) for/to an individual, organisation or community as the result of activity undertaken by a public sector organisation. Benefits (or resolution of issues) may result from activities such as a project or business improvement programme.”

When pondering the sorts of things we might be able to achieve through opening up data sets, I wonder if a consideration of items on the Benefits List might be one way of helping focus attention on the kind of benefit that local councils might value; (and if you need a metric to track performance against then there’s always the Metric Type List). Positioning a proposed open data idea within the context of a Business Circumstance might also help the business case, although such a mapping might also be constraining and act as a brake on innovation operating across traditionally recognised business areas?

I did wonder whether there was a mapping between data burden items (e.g. as listed by the DCLG single data list) and LGSL or IPSV codes, or maybe even Metric List identifiers, but I couldn’t spot any such mappings offhand…?

I’m also not sure of what formal relations, if any, there are between LGSL or IPSV codes and Benefits, Needs, and Metrics, or between Benefits and Needs, Benefits and Metrics or Needs and Metrics? (Maybe mappings would be too constraining? Correlations might be evident though, or probabilistic relations?)

So what else is there…? In terms of profiling people, imagine what sort of a profile you could build around a person if you started to collected evidence associated with different Personal Circumstances, and maybe also threw in a bit of Life Event mapping, maybe trying correlate these to needs and needs meeting services?

From a linkage point of view, I was also interested to see that the Power and Duty List links to the legislation (from http://www.legislation.gov.uk/) that presumably confers and defines those powers and duties (linkage is also provided between powers and duties and LGSL codes).

Hmm.. so maybe not quite so simple as I thought… but aren’t vocabularies wonderful?!;-)

PS A lens I haven’t really applied in this post is the one that distinguishes between the transparency and economic benefit goals of open data, as for example mentioned in the Local Gov Information Unit post on Is the deluge of data good for government?.

Tracking Down Local Government Consultation Web Pages

One of the things I have on my to do list for this year is to try to get a joint paper out with Danilo Rothberg on public consultation platforms at local, national and European level.

In the UK, many local councils have an area of their website dedicated to local consultations, so my first hacky thought for a way to track them down was to scrape something together around a Google search of the form: site:gov.uk intitle:consultation intitle:council.

By chance, I stumbled across page on OpenlyLocal linking to the services offered by a particular council, which made me wonder if I could actually pull down a list of the URLs of consulation pages by council directly from OpenlyLocal.

A quick Twitter exchange with that site’s maestro, Chris Taggart/@countculture, suggested that OpenlyLocal “[s]piders the Localgov redirect urls every week… …trick is knowing the LGD service id code, and then you can get all URLs for councils with URL for it”. In addition, “It’s the OL key you need (that maps to the ldg native uid). Something like this: http://openlylocal.com/services?ldg_service_id=370“.

So, decoding that, and with a bit of extra Googling, here’s where I’m at:

  • from the esd/effective service delivery toolkit (“Facilitated by the Local Government Association (LGA) working for local government improvement so councils can serve people and places better. esd-toolkit is owned and led by the local government sector”), we can find the LGD service ID codes for services relating to consultations:
    • Council – consultation – service delivery (867): All councils are expected to consult on specific areas of their service delivery. This allows service users and other interested parties to have to opportunities to be involved in planning, prioritising and monitoring of services. It also gives customers an opportunity to see all consultation activity, both current and in the past, and a mechanism for customers to research satisfaction with service delivery, opinions about specific projects and looks at lifestyle profiles which helps us design better local services.
    • Council – consultation and community engagement (366): The local authority uses various means to consult and engage with local communities including development of community and citizens’ forums and panels, consultation events, public events, young people’s participation.
    • Council – spending plans – consultation (658): Arrangement of public meetings or other means by which citizens can be consulted on budget plans for the forthcoming year. Previous consultations may be published or available for view on request.
    • Education – consultations (49): The education authority consult with all interested parties (schools, teachers, parents, pupils) on all issues concerning education provision and in particular on any proposed changes to education within schools run by the authority.
    • Equalities and diversity – assessment and consultation (861): The LA is responsible for ensuring that equality and diversity is considered at all times both in employment policy and in the provision of services. Every authority should assess, and consult on, the impact of policy in relation to equality and diversity within their community
    • Planning – consultation (855): The involvement of the public in the planning process. When planning applications are submitted there is a comprehensive system in place which ensures that proposals are publicised in order to invite comments from the local community.
  • To pull down the URL associated with each service for each council from OpenlyLocal (URLs of the form http://openlylocal.com/services?ldg_service_id=370), we need to know the mapping from Local Service ID codes shown above to the corresponding OpenlyLocal service codes (link???)
  • The DirectGov A-Z Directory of Local Services page links to alphabetical listings of service related pages presumably keyed on the Local Gov Service ID (LGSL= in the URL?), though on a quick skim through the listings I couldn’t find any consultation related services? [Ah, I should probably have tried from here: Directgov: Find out about local consultations]
  • From the Local Directgov on the Dept for Communities and Local Government website, I found a newsletter link to Local Directgov: open datasets
  • On data.gov.uk, there’s a handy CSV data file referred to as the Local directgov services list: “This dataset is held on the Local Directgov platform which provides the deep links into Local council websites for a number of services in Directgov. The Local Authority Service details holds the local council URLS for over 240 services where the customer can directly transfer to the appropriate service page on any council in England.” The CSV data is organised as follows:
    Authority Name,SNAC,LAid,Service Name,LGSL,LGIL,Service URL
    Adur District Council,45UB,1,Find out about local consultations,867,8,http://www.adur.gov.uk/consultation/index.htm

So, that’s where I’m at… I now have a CSV file from data.gov.uk with a list of deep link URLs in to local gov websites, and a set of Local Gov Service IDs from esd that allow me to identify the links corresponding to various sorts of consultation.

If I run those URLs through an RSS/Atom feed autodiscovery service, how many open/current consultation feeds do you think I’ll find?!

PS One of of the things OpenlyLocal is managing to do is provide an abstraction/normalisation layer over the myriad local council websites. It’s interesting to compare this with the JISC funded Linking You Toolkit that surveyed URL patterns across various UK university websites and made a series of recommendations about a normalised URL scheme that could potentially be used (via URL rewrites) to provide a common URL interface over common areas of UK HE websites (a simplification that I think also fits into the spirit of normalised data presentation approach being taken with the Key Information Sets). It strikes me that an alternative scheme, at least for the purposes of building services that can map from a central service to deep links related to particular services or content areas of a university website, would be to follow the Local Gov Service ID model and come up with a set of university related services or content areas (potentially reusing those identified by the Linking You project), and then request that universities publish site maps relating deeplink URLs to the appropriate identifier.

PPS as to why I bothered with this post: I’m just trying to document/model an example of the sort of search process I go through whenever I try to find anything out… Which as you can see, is still messed up and informal, starting with Google, then moving to tapping folk I suspect might know the answer to questions I’m trying to articulate, and finally ending up by checking out data.gov.uk…

PPPS Given the full list of government consultation websites for departmental and agency consultations, I wonder: is there a service/content area coding scheme used to identify common areas of central gov department websites?